Perhaps the most brilliant mind in contemporary baseball analysis — at least among those creating products available to the public — is Daren Willman, the proprietor of Baseball Savant, a website he created on his own before joining forces with MLB.com.
The site is a treasure trove of everything you could ever hope to imagine to learn about the game. You truly are limited only by your own imagination. I wrote an article before the 2017 season chronicling Byungho Park’s struggles with velocity from the year before with data completely pulled from the site.
Somehow, the site continues to get better. One of the most recent additions to the site is rating outfielders by “directional outs above average.”
Here’s how the site explains it:
Directional Outs Above Average takes Outs Above Average, the Statcast range-based metric of fielding skill, and splits it into six different segments to express a fielder’s performance directionally.
The middle of the circle is the fielder’s starting point, and the 360-degree range around them is broken up into six 60-degree segments, where “in” is always “towards the plate.” The direction a player must go to get to the ball’s projected landing point from his starting spot dictates to which directional slice his play will be credited (or debited).
(Due to rounding, a player’s full-season OAA may not align perfectly with the total values of the six directional segments.)
For further clarity, it uses this image to show the zones:
All of the vantage points are from a home-plate view, by the way.
Each direction can be sorted for a high- or low-water mark, as can moving in or out (left, right and straight in that direction).
They’ve put together three years of data — sorted by number of opportunities — so let’s take a look at how some Twins show up on these leaderboards. For ease of sorting, I used a minimum of five fielding opportunities.
- Max Kepler: +9 on 327 attempts
- Byron Buxton: +2 on 74 attempts
- Jake Cave: +1 on 150 attempts
- Johnny Field: 0 on 136 attempts
- Eddie Rosario: 0 on 253 attempts
- Taylor Motter: 0 on nine attempts
- Robbie Grossman: -1 on 127 attempts
Here are some things to look at from each player:
Kepler doesn’t have any negatives in his profile, and is nearly as adept coming in on balls (+4) as he is going back (+5). His two zeroes are moving back and in to his right — i.e. toward the foul line.
He’s also tied for 12th among all outfielders — with Pirates outfielders Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson — who have at least five opportunities.
There isn’t much data on Buxton — we all know why — but the fact that he played on a bad toe and still didn’t accrue negative defensive value has to count for something.
Cave was generally pretty solid, but where he struggles is reminiscent of John F. Kennedy — back and to the left. He has positive value (+2) back and to the right and coming in to that same direction (+1).
Field’s biggest issue — and they’re both minor (-1) — is going back and to either side. He’s positive or zero in every other direction.
Rosario as dead-even is interesting given he has the second-most chances on the team, and where he struggles — back and left — is adjacent to his best direction of in and to the left (2 runs down and up, in that order).
Motter didn’t have enough chances for it to really matter, while Grossman’s tallies up or down come straight in (-1), in and to the right (+1) and back and to the right (-1). Still, this feels like a positive for a guy who has played more in the field this year than ever expected.
Here’s something also interesting: Former Twins prospect Daniel Palka ranks as the third-worst outfielder in the big leagues this year (-15). He’s especially struggled coming in on balls (-10).
- Buxton: +29 on 408 attempts
- Kepler: +8 on 327 attempts
- Zack Granite: +5 on 76 attempts
- Chris Gimenez: 0 on seven attempts
- Grossman: 0 on 98 attempts
- Ehire Adrianza: -1 on 31 attempts
- Rosario: -3 on 295 attempts
It’s no surprise Buxton — last year’s Platinum Glove winner as baseball’s best defender — leads the way, but only three defenders were over 20 outs above average (Ender Inciarte at 21, Adam Engel at 20). That just goes to show how terrific Buxton is defensively, and perhaps how much his pitchers have missed him during this lost 2018 season.
Kepler ranked 17th among all defensive outfielders, and again had zero negatives in his profile. His zeroes were coming in and to each side — though coming straight in was a +4 — and going back to his right was just a +1. That’s fairly consistent with his 2018 numbers.
Granite putting up numbers in a very limited sample would be more exciting if he hadn’t fallen off the map offensively in 2018. It’s worth wondering if he’ll last the offseason on the 40-man roster, but there’s still fourth-outfielder upside here — especially defensively. Granite was especially adept going back on balls (+4).
Grossman checking in at zero is an interesting development, though the number of chances (98 -> 127) shows the difference in how often he’s had to be used in the outfield this season. Granted, Grossman has shown improvement in the outfield, but less is more with him out there to be sure.
Rosario being a net negative is interesting, and it’s worth noting that he did well coming straight in (+2) but not great coming into the left (-1) or right (-3). The same is true going straight back (+1) but not back to the left or right (both -1).
Also potentially of note: Former Twins outfielder Denard Span was the third-worst outfielder this season (-10 runs).
- Kepler: +13 on 243 attempts
- Buxton: +9 on 261 attempts
- Rosario: +4 on 192 attempts
- Darin Mastroianni: +1 on five attempts
- Logan Schafer: 0 on 42 attempts
- Danny Santana: -5 on 156 attempts
- Miguel Sano: -5 on 90 attempts
- Grossman: -15 on 153 attempts
Kepler ranked ninth among outfielders in 2016, and with a three-year sample maybe it’s time to re-think how valuable he is defensively? Again, Kepler doesn’t have any negatives, but he’s +3 for every zone except straight back as well as back and to the right. Does this, perhaps, justify playing him in right field? Struggles moving to the right — his left, in this case — mean if he was playing left field, he’d be giving up more ground in the gap as opposed to the corner.
Food for thought, maybe?
Buxton is solid in a limited number of opportunities here, but *eyes emoji* he has a lower rating in more attempts than Kepler. That seems hard to believe, doesn’t it?
Rosario at +4 is interesting for balance purposes. He’s +1 when combining 2016 and ’17, and exactly a zero this year. Does that mean we have a pretty good idea who Rosario is? I don’t think we can say for sure, but I feel fairly comfortable putting him right around break-even if I was thinking about where he’ll be next year.
Santana being not particularly good makes sense, as does how it all breaks out. He was -3 going back to the left, -2 going straight back and -1 going back to the right. Maybe it’s just me, but intuitively it makes sense that a converted infielder would be better going in on the ball (+1) than going back (-6).
Sano? Bad at outfield defense? Once you get over the initial shock, perhaps it’s noteworthy that he was just -1 in every direction except straight back (0). It might be easy to term that a non-disaster, but that’s not accurate — it was just 90 chances, but in a sample size of a full season, that’d be absolutely awful.
Speaking of awful, Grossman was the fifth-worst outfielder in baseball that year. Worst yet, it came in just 153 attempts — well short of a full season worth of chances. Now what we have at play here, however, is that Grossman’s bad 2016 still drives the defensive narrative around him when he’s been pretty much average the last couple years.
That, at least to me, is noteworthy.